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Wireless network management tools for the mobile enterprise

Mobile users are infiltrating the corporate wireless network and CIOs need a strategy to support them. One part of that strategy is determining the right wireless network management tools approach to take -- whether using a vendor's proprietary and single-environment system or adopting a unified network management tool that allows end-to-end supervision of the wired and wireless network. In this webcast presentation, Shamus McGillicuddy, senior analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, explains why network management tools should be an important part of wireless product vendor evaluation, the benefits a unified tool can bring over wireless product-specific tool, and the intersection of mobile device management and network access control tools.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the last of four parts of McGillicuddy's webcast presentation on enterprise networking strategy to support users' mobile devices.

See the rest of this webcast presentation

Part 1: Determining enterprise networking strategy to support mobile devices

Part 2: Upgrading the wireless LAN

Part 3: Trickle-down effect on the wired network

Part 4: Network management considerations

Shamus McGillicuddy: Network management is another major consideration -- the third major consideration when planning the mobile enterprise. Every Wi-Fi vendor offers its own management tools for managing [its] products, and most of them are pretty good. These tools are usually proprietary, though, which means that if you have a mixed-vendor environment, you're going to have more than one management tool set.

They also vary in capabilities, so make network management tools a part of your vendor evaluation when looking at wireless networking. The basics include things like controller and access point configuration management, wireless network monitoring and troubleshooting. You might [also] have some mobile device and application monitoring [capabilities] available from some vendors. Most vendors will have some sort of radio frequency management and optimization; that's how they optimize the way that the radio waves travel back and forth in the network. That's considered a competitive differentiator among most of your Wi-Fi vendors, so we want to look at how the Wi-Fi vendors do along those lines. They all have very specific and different techniques, many of them patented, so evaluate how they do those things. You might also want capacity planning technology to track whether or not you are going to run out of capacity in the future as more and more people become mobile. And then there are some security features you might want to ask about, such as wireless intrusion prevention or encryption options beyond basic access security that every Wi-Fi vendor -- and every consumer Wi-Fi vendor, for that matter -- offers.

There's some operational downside to using vendor-provided tools for the most part. For instance, do you really want to manage two networks separately? Because you're going to have the wired network and the wireless network both being managed separately. That means no end-to-end troubleshooting and performance management. So, you end up in situations [in which you ask], 'Was a bad Voice-over-IP Wi-Fi call caused by the Wi-Fi, the Ethernet or the phone?' It's just a long workflow for your troubleshooting team, so you want to think about better ways of doing that, such as unified management tools.

Unified wired and wireless network management can simplify network operations. A lot of vendors have been talking about this for a couple years now, and EMA research has found that 54% of enterprises today rely on some form of unified wired and wireless network management tools in their environments. This is one platform that integrates operations for both your wired local area network and your wireless local area network. It provides you with a 'single pane of glass' for provisioning, policy enforcement, troubleshooting, etc.

Not all unified network management tools are created equal. You want to look hard at what your vendors are offering. For instance, if a Wi-Fi vendor that doesn't do any sort of wired networking is offering you a unified management tool, you want to really examine how good they are at managing Ethernet if they don't build Ethernet. And assess the scope of the unified management tool, just to see what you're still going to be doing in separate tool stacks moving forward.

Also, consider some third-party tools. There are performance management tools that are out there that you might already be using because there's certain applications on your Wi-Fi that will be sensitive to jitter, latency, packet loss. So, consider application-aware network performance management platforms. A lot of vendors out there that you may already be using provide you visibility into performance of critical mobile applications and help you trace performance problems across both the wired and wireless network.

Also, think about policy enforcement tools. Protect valuable bandwidth from recreational apps. Because of the mobile devices, people are going to be using them more than ever. You don't want your virtual desktop infrastructure on your tablets, for instance, to be slowed down by some people using YouTube for the latest comedy video. So, think about security gateways with application visibility and control that can block bandwidth-hungry recreational traffic at the Internet edge.

Also, you want to think about managing the mobile devices themselves, [which is] kind of outside the purview of network infrastructure, but you want to think about what platforms you want to support, who's going to own these devices, are you going to do bring your own device program, [etc.]. So, how do you manage those devices? You might want to look at mobile device management, which can give you control over what applications are used in the enterprise setting and control what data is accessed. Look at network access control, which can give you device authentication, user authentication [and] device health checks. And a lot of these vendors -- these MDM and NAC vendors -- are starting to integrate their technology for added value, so you might want to look at that [and] see what kind of partner ecosystem they offer you. And some network infrastructure vendors will offer these types of capabilities on their own as a value-add, so think about that as well.

Questions about this webcast presentation on wireless network management tools? Email [email protected].

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